Monday, April 1, 2024

Best New-to-Me: March 2024

 March is always a little chaotic. I think the weather here has something to do with that - we started with some of the warmest days on record and finished with blizzards. Perhaps it was in response to that turbulence that I did some re-watching over the past month. Amongst other things, I revisited The Godfather parts 1 & 2, some later chapters of Lone Wolf and Cub, both Lady Snowblood films, and a series of high profile 90s crime flicks: Lone Star, Pulp Fiction, Bad Lieutenant and Cop Land. Rewatches are at odds with my drive to see more movies and find new and exciting titles. I don't watch five movies a day and I don't multi-task while watching movies so there's forever some opportunity cost with what I choose to put on. It's always worth reminding myself that this is ultimately a leisure time pursuit though the lists, writing drafts, and even spreadsheets I have put together might lead normal people to think otherwise. Sometimes you just need to revisit an old favorite or even refresh why you remember something a certain way. Despite my wallowing in nostalgia, I still found ample opportunity to watch new films and here are my favorites from March:

Deadly Circuit (1983) - The first Claude Miller film I watched was The Inquisitor where he worked with Bruno Nuytten who also shot Possession that same year. In his following film, Deadly Circuit, Miller works with Isabelle Adjani herself as an irresistible, mercurial, and lethal femme fatale in a genuinely weird take on the neo-noir/thriller. It's a gorgeous film filled with gnarly violence and (I think) absurdist black humor in a very French mode. Michel Serrault gives an excellent performance as a PI obsessed with Adjani's beautiful murderess, but I'm not sure how much sense any of it makes. I loved it, but I can see it failing to land with some people. If extensive European location footage, Adjani rocking an insane amount of amazing 80s looks, and rich dopes getting the living shit killed out of them seems sufficient for you, I would look into this one immediately.

Yakuza Graveyard (1976) - I watched a fair amount of yakuza films last month and Yakuza Graveyard is not the best of them or even the best Fukusaku film I watched, but it's still incredibly solid. It's predictably grim and chaotic but also features some nice character touches and Meiko Kaji so definitely worth a look if you like these films.

Crazy Joe (1974) - A movie that should probably be better known than it is. In the wake of success following both The Godfather films and John G. Avildsen's Joe, Dino De Laurentiis produced this mafia story starring Peter Boyle as the titular "Crazy Joe" Gallo. Boyle channels his very best Jimmy Cagney for the duration and he's flanked by an insane cast including Fred Williamson, Paula Prentiss, Rip Torn, and Henry Winkler. Much like De Laurentiis' earlier not-quite-Godfather effort, The Valachi Papers, Crazy Joe is not a revelation of cinematic technique but it's still a terrific lower budget, gritty crime story. It makes me wish there had been a lot more of these Italian/American co-productions

The Unknown (1927) - I picked up Criterion's Tod Browning set in their flash sale and finally watched both The Unknown and The Mystic in addition to Freaks. The set itself is fantastic with some great essays and features that really do help contextualize the films. Despite having some favorites and some films that were highly influential for me, I'm not the most dedicated silent film watcher. However, I've wanted to watch The Unknown for a long time now and I'm happy to say it doesn't disappoint. Lon Chaney's performance is just a marvel - the expressiveness he employs doesn't really work in a modern film milieu but it's so powerful in the silent era. Joan Crawford commands the screen in nearly everything I've seen her in and this is no exception, she looks absolutely stunning as well. I don't want to give away any spoilers but The Unknown starts in the relatively strange territory of a love triangle (of sorts) between an armless knife thrower, a dazzling gypsy girl, and a circus strongman and it gets weirder from there. Secrets, schemes, and black market surgery follows! I also loved The Mystic which starts stronger than it ends but is satisfyingly bizarre and offers a riff on Nightmare Alley decades before the book or the first film were released.

Attention, the Kids are Watching (1978) - An interesting take on the creepy/killer kids movie. Alain Delon is mostly secondary to the group of affluent children largely left to their own devices during a summer holiday. There's no doubt we are supposed to understand the kids as corrupted by modern society - absentee parents, junk food, popular culture (including Sege Leroy's previous films which get some small cameos). However, Delon's criminal drifter is also the antagonist that the kids rally against. Leroy's "thriller" manages a weird vibe but I found it compelling nonetheless. I don't think Leroy is particularly well known in the US and I'm definitely curious to check out more of his films.

Legitimate Violence (1982) - Speaking of more Serge Leroy films - I (understandably) thought this would play out like a French Death Wish after reading the synopsis. Instead, I found something much more nuanced in its depiction of violence, justice, and failed systems. Violence ties together a few threads but the main thrust of the story is Claude Brasseur as an aggrieved man who's family is slaughtered in heist gone wrong. His pursuit of justice drives things forward but there are detours into right-wing politics, police corruption, the 80s nightclub scene, as well as more straightforward thriller beats. There's little glorification of vigilantism in Leroy's film and easy answers aren't being offered. Brasseur's character is desperate for justice but doesn't readily accept vengeance as an alternative, the justice system isn't overburdened with bureaucracy as much as it's rotten at its heart, and the public is depicted either as a violent mob or innocents caught in the mayhem. It's an interesting film and a counterbalance to American and Italian films that cover similar territory. I'd love to see this get a physical media release stateside.

Street Mobster (1972) - Along with Sympathy for the Underdog, Fukusaku offers a preview of his breakneck yakuza nihilism that would erupt into the seminal Yakuza Papers series. Street Mobster features Battles' Bunta Sugawara as an utterly irredeemable street tough who still manages to exude a combustible magnetism that's hard to deny. Mobster is an unrelenting salvo of chaos and violence (sexual and otherwise) delivered with vertigo inducing handheld camerawork. The audience is hurtled down alleyways and cramped urban interiors while being subjected to street brawls as if a participant. It is impossible to empathize with these violent psychos but their tragic self-destruction makes for a thrilling ride.

Exterior Night (1980) - I'll be the first to admit that this wandering story of young, aimless people following their impulses didn't fully hold my attention for the duration. I could still appreciate the approach that I think Jacques Bral was going for. It's an atmospheric, moody piece where the drama comes in from the margins. The important aspect is to exist in the twilight spaces, these city streets, these dark corridors of Paris and maybe of our own minds. I would see this theatrically in a heartbeat. Christine Boisson has a tremendous screen presence here and her character is the most interesting of the three principals. I've seen a few films with Boisson but she never made quite this impression on me and I'm very much looking forward to seeing her in Rue Barbare coming out from FCE later this year.

The Great Okinawa Yakuza War (1976) - The 70s Yakuza genre is filled with so many ferocious films that it's impossible for me to rank them according to hardboiled grit. However, if I was to make the attempt - The Great Okinawa Yakuza War would rate towards the top. Absolute ripper of bloody action and meanspirited violence couched against a fascinating backdrop of Okinawan cultural identity. Sonny Chiba is both charmingly outrageous and terrifyingly brutal. Hiroki Matsukata provides a grounded counterbalance of a man who has learned patience but still has his limits. The island setting, the sweltering heat, and the push/pull between the local gangs and outside forces (primarily mainland yakuza but the specter of US occupation looms over everything as well) dials up the pressure until it finally erupts in the finale of chaos. The ultraviolent gore is wild but somehow Okinawa Yakuza War never feels like a living comic book the way some hyper-stylized entries into the genre do. This needs a blu-ray, immediately.

A Murder Is a Murder (1972) - An absolutely tremendous cast in an entertaining mystery/thriller. It's hard not to throw around words like "Chabrol-ian" considering the films set up - possible murder, upper-class intrigue, provincial setting, and the master himself even turns up as a bumbling train car attendant. The premise unfolds in interesting ways but the ending lands weirdly and is lacking the sharp societal critique Chabrol likely would have delivered with similar material. Still totally worthwhile to see some doppelganger strangeness from Stephane Audrane and a cool Michel Serrault turn as the local police commissioner.

The Sunday Woman (1975) - This is a long time watchlist denizen that I finally made time for. Luigi Comencini's whodunit is a breezy affair that borders on slight. However, the killer cast - Marcello Mastroianni, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Louis Trintignant - gorgeous footage of Turin, and Ennio Morricone score do a lot to elevate this. Besides being totally entertaining, there a far more stone phalluses in Sunday Woman than I would have guessed going into it. There's a homosexual relationship featured prominently in the plot and while it has some major issues seen within a modern lens, it's handled pretty well for 1975 (which still seems startlingly progressive considering the 80s backsliding that would happen on that front).

Starting Over (1979) - There are more than a few reviews describing how middling this Alan J. Pakula/James L. Brooks romantic comedy is and I'm willing to concede that it's an imperfect film. However (and maybe a month filled with shootouts and street brawls softened me up a bit) I found Starting Over to be a cool discovery and one that should be in front of more eyeballs. For better or for worse, the film focuses on Burt Reynolds, newly divorced from Candice Bergen, trying to manage his broken heart and his loneliness which leads to him kindling a relationship with Jill Clayburgh's pre-school teacher, Marilyn. I actually thought Reynolds was knocking it out of the park for the first two thirds of the film - wounded, guarded, and believably confused culminating in a marvelous panic attack scene in Bloomingdales. Unfortunately, as the drama intensifies, Reynolds clings to a kind of detachment that really ought to be shed as his character supposedly opens up. Clayburgh is predictably wonderful playing the kind of smart, funny character that she had so expertly nailed in An Unmarried Woman the year before. Marilyn does get emotionally knocked around a bit but she also asserts her independence and accounts well for herself and her needs. I'm no stranger to the comedic gifts of Candice Bergen but she absolutely floored me in this and is easily the most inspired bit of casting. Charles Durning and Francis Sternhagen also provide some stellar supporting roles. Easy recommendation if you go for this brand of late 70s/early 80s funny/sad story featuring bad weather and lots of earth tones.

Theatrical Screenings!

We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974) - I have been trying to watch Scola's C'eravamo tanto amati/We All Loved Each Other So Much for a few years now so I was absolutely ecstatic that it was going to be screened as part of our local Italian Film Festival. I'm not entirely sure how if first came upon my radar but it might have come down to looking through Stefania Sandrelli's filmography and the striking poster graphic drawing me in. It's supposedly extremely influential in Italy and it's an overwhelming marriage of popular entertainment with some genuine artistic chops. An expansive story of friendship between three men and one woman (who they all wind up loving in some fashion) during the thirty years following the end of WWII. C'eravamo tanto amati is ostensibly a comedy and an extremely funny one but the overarching themes are those of loss, melancholy, and even betrayal. The friends betray each other, they betray their families, and they betray their ideals - intellectualism fails, the bravest of them becomes a corrupt capitalist, and leftist reform politics do little to change the circumstances of working people. It's also a film obsessed with postwar film - De Sica, Fellini, Antonioni, and Rosselini all get their due and there are some excellent cameos throughout the picture.

For whatever reason I didn't realize this until after having seen the film (not mad that my first time was in a theater) but this is available on Cave of Forgotten Films under the Italian title and I recommend you check it out.

Dune: Part Two (2024) - I found this to be fairly entertaining even if I was left with many questions regarding the logistics of sandworm travel. I don't hate Villeneuve's Dune films but I don't think they're masterpieces either. I'm also not particularly territorial about Hebert's works. I loved the first few books when I was a kid, I have an outsized affection for Lynch's imperfectly baroque vision of the story, and I am especially fond of the old board game from 1979. I preferred Part Two to the previous film and no doubt will go see a third movie if it happens. I do wish these were a little weirder but otherwise I'm happy to sit in my fancy reclining theater chair and let it wash over me.

Perfect Days (2023) - No holds barred absolute love for Wim Wenders' new narrative film. Odes to a simpler life are not inherently profound but this one did resonate strongly with me. Shot in a mere 16 days (!), Wenders delivers a striking, poetic look at urban life in Tokyo and Koji Yakusho provides a beautifully subtle performance as a man who has built a life of intricate daily rituals. We come to understand Koji's character both through those rituals as well as his incidental interactions with the other lives he briefly coincides with. The musical choices can feel a little obvious at times, but I like them so I can hardly complain. Weirdly, Wenders' film was initially conceived as promotional material for the Tokyo Toilet project and it both works in that respect, but isn't less impactful for it. Any Americans watching this will be reduced to tears as they recall the last public toilet they were subjected to (if they could even find one).

Loves Lies Bleeding (2024) - I couldn't have been more hyped going into this one - new sexy crime/neo-noir thriller in a desert setting with an LGBTQ+ focus - and left a little deflated. I thought it looked and sounded great and I very much appreciated some dark humor and pervasive grossness. I just wish the writing had been a bit stronger and I had a hard time coming along as the film dipped into pure fantasy territory. Kristen Stewart continues to be a supremely compelling performer who seems to have fantastic instincts, and I was also impressed with Katy O'Brian who I hope gets to do more dark genre stuff. I would easily watch another half-dozen of these without complaint but I wish it would have either gone completely gonzo or stayed grounded.

Immaculate (2024) - My bummer parade continues undaunted as I found this newly beloved partial nod to Italian horror to be pretty okay. Again, the writing was a weak element here but I also didn't think Immaculate was particularly interesting from an aesthetic standpoint either. I found a lot of it to be murky and then bolstered by the kind of dull drone shots and jump scares that permeate everything these days. I commend the filmmakers for resisting the urge to add an A24 inverted camera zoom. I am not super familiar with Sydney Sweeney's work but I though she was very good here and her face is made for emotionally gut-wrenching performances. I also dug the practical gore and particularly enjoyed when my row of companions unanimously chortled as blood sprayed out of some unlucky neck while the rest of the theater stayed silent. I love the horror fans out there, but I do need to take their unbridled enthusiasm with a grain of salt sometimes. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Best New-to-Me: February 2024

 The shortest month of the year is in the books and I feel like I'm chugging along fairly well in the movie-watching department. Lots of screenings, some solid physical media pick-ups, and plenty I'm curious about for the near future. I've been impressed with the enthusiasm around both screenings locally and boutique label releases. It feels very much that despite the apocalyptic things being written about the death of the movies not too long ago, there's a real vital interest around quality cinema. Quality is virtually impossible to define but for purposes of this blog we'll say that it appears that people are turning out for art films, rep. screenings, and independent works. I was just at a nearly sold out screening yesterday at 11am for a 50 year old Italian film that almost none of us had seen before. Further down in this column, I'll mention the fully sold out screening of Daisies I went to on a Friday night. Movie fans will always be subject in some ways to the whims of massive, frequently idiotic media conglomerates but at least locally it seems if you give folks something worth seeing, they will show up for it.

We Still Kill the Old Way (1967) - Solid mystery/conspiracy thriller that I thought was going to be more of a crime film. Regardless, I found my self drawn in fairly early by a genuinely compelling plot bolstered by solid performances from Gian Maria Volonte and Irene Papas. I did find my attention failing me at some point but for whatever reason, I often struggle to settle in with Petri's films. Still well worth seeking out and I hope to revisit on a less crap-tacular scan one of these days.

French Postcards (1979) - Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz undoubtedly had a strange trajectory in the film industry. Starting with the utterly beguiling Messiah of Evil and ending roughly with the largely maligned Howard the Duck - somewhere in the middle they had several wildly successful collaborations with George Lucas and also made French Postcards. Released in '79 and loosely based on Huyck's and Katz' own experiences traveling and studying in Europe (though not a nostalgia piece) - French Postcards is adjacent to what I recognize as a sex comedy but perhaps better defined as a coming of age ensemble film? Its multiple characters and diverging storylines don't flow elegantly, but I found everyone so damned charming that I didn't mind a bit. It's very sweet but not cloyingly so and it's occasionally very silly, nearly absurdist. There's a somewhat inexplicable scene where they are all putting on a play (never previously mentioned in the film) and I found myself actually rolling it was so weird.  The young actors account well for themselves and remain believably natural even when things get goofy. It's also shot virtually all on location in Paris in the 70s which doesn't hurt a bit. I can see a people writing this off as slight (and they could be right) but I'd say it's well worth your time if 70s-80s funny/sweet/sad ensemble pieces with some European influences speak to you.

El Crack (1981) - Solid, frequently sentimental spin on a film noir detective story. I enjoyed this and I thought Alfredo Landa's performance was particularly excellent. There's a kind of domestic melodrama story that probably does deliver the emotional underpinning for the heavier stuff, but I did find myself disengaging. The mystery is no surprise for any fan of the genre but there are a few violent jolts that sucked me back in. I wish this was boiled a little harder but I'm still glad I managed to check it out. The opening sequence (arguably my favorite scene) was clearly influential on a certain 90s crime classic.

Cops vs. Thugs (1975) - An excellent distillation of Kinji Fukasaku's crime oeuvre - corruption, honor codes, historical precedent, and institutional pessimism set against a compelling noir yarn. Cops vs. Thugs is in many ways a precursor to heroic bloodshed and a variety of American gangster pictures but it keeps things fully grounded in a believably gritty setting. There are some striking moments of violence and action but without the operatic excess of many films exploring similar themes. Fukasaku's crime world feels very lived in to me and not romanticized one bit.

Yokohama BJ Blues (1981) -  I can probably just go ahead and say that this was my favorite discovery of the month and it will undoubtedly make my end-of-year list. Truly impressive Japanese spin on the shaggy dog detective story that feels very much in conversation with 70s downer, hangout reinvention of the private dick genre. A double bill with something like The Long Goodbye would make perfect sense to me. Unlike those 70s classics, Yokohama has a visual appeal not dissimilar to the hyper-cool 80s noirs that were also beginning to make their ascent.  In contrast to nearly all of its predecessors and contemporaries,  Yokohama BJ Blues takes a pronounced  interest in gay characters. Some of this queer text seems rooted in traditionally iffy pulp fiction tropes but some of it is incredibly tender and ambiguous in a really lovely way. Yokohama lends itself beautifully as a film noir setting and while I'll never stop loving New York or Paris, it's always cool to see a city you haven't watched 100s of times before.  Yusaku Matsuda's BJ is a musician in addition to being a private eye and I thought the musical elements were integrated well and certainly gave him something interesting to work with outside of his typically tough characters.  I'd love to see a nice physical edition of this and I'm dying to know more about where it came from and how it fits into the bigger picture of Japanese crime films. 

Violent Streets (1974) - Propulsive, kinetic, entertaining milieu of nightclubs, city streets, sex, and violence. The action leans into cartoonish excess at times and the plot gets convoluted to the point that I didn't always understand who was working for who and for what reasons. However, the important thing for Violent Streets is that it's cinematic as hell. Absolutely stunning action set pieces set everywhere from a chicken coop to a black tie gala. I'd love to know more about Madame Joy who only had a couple of screen credits to her name but manages some chilling Meiko Kaji vibes while operating under your standard "cross-dressing psychopath" character type. Noboru Ando and Bunta Sugawara are predictably excellent in this as well. Hideo Gosha is an undisputed master of samurai film but this makes me wish he had done more modern films.

Police (1985) - Cerebral, claustrophobic at times, and ultimately pessimistic. Police is certainly rooted in a realistic police/criminal milieu but being a Maurice Pialat movie, it's driven largely by conversation and performance. It's wonderfully written and the cast is excellent, it's possibly my favorite Sophie Marceau performance. While it's always nice to see Sandrine Bonnaire, I do wish she had been given something featuring more of the emotional texture the other actors are exploring. The other Pialat films I've seen work their way to this emotional explosivity and Police instead feels far more resigned. Depardieu is both incredible and disturbing as his character's casual (creepily affable) misogyny appears to mirror his own. It doesn't make him less compelling but adds some grossness to everything. Police is very plotty and chatty so I would not go into this after a long day unless your French comprehension is better than mine.  I'm glad I picked up a copy as I think I'll revisit this with a fresher mind and my expectations leveled.

The Game Trilogy - After watching Yokohama BJ Blues I felt compelled to finally check out Matsuda's collaboration with Toru Murakawa that truly made their careers early on. I picked up the set from Arrow and watched them back to back so it's easier for me to discuss them all in the same entry. I was curious about these films when they were first released on disc but I kept reading that Matsuda's character is so despicable - especially towards women - that it's hard to engage with the narrative. I find the way that Japanese entertainment handles sexual violence really difficult sometimes and it is enough to put me off of something. However, and this is no way an attempt to hand wave anything away, when I finally watched The Most Dangerous Game the most obviously objectionable scene wasn't nearly as exploitative or brutal as I've seen in many other Japanese films and honestly in hardboiled cinema across the globe. I think context is useful here and while Matsuda's characterization of the assassin Narumi did become a symbol for masculine coolness at the time - I don't find his character to be very cool at all. He is objectively terrible at life - degenerate gambler, lives in (under?) a bowling alley, has a goofy bumpkin quality to him (as evidenced by some clothing choices), and is largely incapable of maintaining human relationships. This is what makes him interesting (even if he is repellent) as he is also objectively amazing as a hitman. Delon's Jef Costello was unattached ostensibly due to a kind of zen discipline he approached his work with, Matsuda's Narumi is unattached because he's a disaster of a human being - unless he has a gun in his hands.

Aside from all of this, Murakawa delivers some satisfyingly tough, stylish crime pictures. There's some outstanding location work and a electric, hand-held feel to many of the sequences. He worked with one of my favorites, Yuji Ohno, for a lively 70s jazz/funk score. The first film is probably my favorite of the three but The Execution Game is also tremendously realized. The screenwriter deliberately took inspiration from Le Samourai and the result feels much more Melville-ian than the previous entries. It's extremely cool but I do find myself longing for the grit and rangy weirdness of the first film. The Killing Game is the weakest entry for me, injecting the film with some broader comedy just wasn't a welcome addition. 

Theatrical Screenings!

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint (2023) - This was a sweet movie and I think it definitely has an audience. I am just not part of that audience. Even at a lean 84 minutes I was ready for this to wrap.

American Fiction (2023) -  The movie is largely about how Black stories are forced to pander to white audiences and it was hard to sit in a mostly white (affluent, NPR, artsy) crowd and not feel that we were, in fact, being pandered to. This has such a great cast and honestly the characters are compelling in their own right. I only wished I was spending time with them in a movie I liked better. 

Past Lives (2023) - A rewatch for me and still one of my favorites from last year. The performances are still totally charming, the music is perfection, and the 35mm photography remains gorgeous. I was able to think a lot more about the shot choice and the framing of people in space as their physical and emotional closeness expand and contract throughout the film.

Cemetery Man (1994) - There's no coherent, impartial review I can give to a film like Cemetery Man. I watched it probably dozens of times on tape in my teens and 20s and I believe I pre-ordered the dvd when Anchor Bay put it out. I'm very glad that it's been restored and re-released and that it's much more widely available again. I went to see it theatrically for (I think) the first time and mostly enjoyed it (the experience was unfortunately marred by a technical glitch early on) but also wondered if maybe I've put in my time with this one already. It's still wonderfully insane and I would recommend it to anyone interested. Personally, this might be more of an occasional 5-10 year revisit.

May December (2023) - Another rewatch that my wife wanted to catch up to. I'd say this rewards revisiting. The tone is managed masterfully and I was able to check in much more fully with Charles Melton's performance this time around. I will remain a Michel Legrande musical stab super-fan forever.

Bye Bye Tiberias (2023) - There are some extremely moving, intimate, beautiful sequences in this documentary about a family and both forced and chosen Palestinian diaspora. I wouldn't say it's the strongest documentary on a strictly formal basis but I was certainly affected by it.

Daisies (1966) - Seeing this with a sold out, boisterous crowd on a Friday night was maybe the best way to experience the madcap antics that make up its 76 minute runtime. Such a treat to see it on 35mm as well. This screening was adjacent to an exhibition on avant-garde art in Eastern Bloc nations from the 60s to the 80s. I'd visited the art show a couple of times which gave some nice context as I'm not particularly well versed in Czech New Wave cinema.

2024 Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films - Animation - My wife and I have been going to the animated shorts program nearly every year we've been able to for over a decade. The quality is always variable but I generally come away with one or two really memorable films whether they were actually nominated or just part of their "highly commended" segment. This year I thought the nominees were fine to offensively bad. However, I thought one of the commended choices, Wild Summon, was absolutely wonderful. Weird with a strong message and one to look out for if it shows up on Vimeo or something out there.

The Prisoner (1955) - This was a member screening for the Cult Film Collective on a super rare 16mm print. Strong performances from Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins do a lot to elevate material that might have been better suited to a 60 minute teleplay rather than a feature. Glad to have been given a chance to see it in such unique circumstances, though.

La Chimera - This is one of the last 2023 movies that I've just been dying to catch. I'm certainly a Rohrwacher fan and I thought the set up for Chimera sounded intriguing. There's a lot to admire here and certainly some themes to mull over and perhaps revisit. It's a lovely looking film, the characters are fun and charismatic, and this delivers some Rohrwach-ian fantasy elements as well. What I keep thinking about and the thing that ultimately won me over the most on my first viewing is how playfully this is rendered. There's some genuine silliness and anarchy that reminded me in parts of French New Wave, other parts Fellini, and even Emir Kusturica at times. The sold out crowd I attended with was largely inert but I found this a quite funny movie though it does find itself in more thoughtful and melancholic territory towards the finale. Notably, this was the opening film of the local Italian Film Festival and the organizers hosted an aperitivo beforehand. Cinema aperitivo should be a thing. I'd take small plates and a couple glasses of wine before a movie over a collectible popcorn tub any day.

Friday, February 23, 2024

The French Had a Name For It – Top 5 Underseen French Crime Flicks

 Minneapolis' own Cult Film Collective recently released a zine of "top 5" lists contributed by its membership. The zine is only being distributed to members but I decided to reproduce my list here on the blog. The whole zine was a great read and hopefully we'll be able to do another one next year. If you're in the Twin Cities area, you should definitely be checking out the CFC and consider joining!

You can also check out some of the upcoming screenings being promoted by the CFC over at :

Crime films and especially French crime films have always been part of my regular viewing but shortly after becoming a Cult Film Collective member, I started delving more deeply into the genre. This kind of noir cinema has a dedicated and passionate following and my pursuit led me to discover some fantastic programming work in theaters from San Francisco to Melbourne. Whether the following are truly "cult" films is probably a matter of debate, but they are some of my favorite underseen gems I've logged since the joining the CFC.

A suspenseful, well composed cat-and-mouse game through Parisian nightlife. Henri Decaë shows off his total mastery of street footage and driving sequences, Barney Wilen's jazz score adds an additional layer of cool to everything, and Lino Ventura is as watchable as ever as the film's protagonist who also happens to be the bad guy.

Genre banger from Jacques Deray that's heavy on cool 60s vibes and location work. There's not a deep mystery at the heart of Symphony but the suspense is exquisite through multiple dialogue free sequences that allow space for actions and motivations of the various players to unfurl.

Lino Ventura and Marlène Jobert team up as an unlikely pair of crime solvers who scour Paris to find the missing witness in an organized crime trial. There's a degree of 70s cynicism at play here but the focus on the city as a character, shoe leather detective work, and the chemistry between Ventura and Jobert distinguish Address from the rouge-cop films that were gaining ascendency at the time.

The Cop (1970)
In contrast to Address, The Cop is entirely in the tradition of morally ambiguous, pessimistic, anti-authoritarian crime fiction and does it as well or better than many films that would follow. Unrelentingly hardboiled, gritty French crime from Yves Boisset with a cast so stacked that somehow Bernard Fresson doesn't even make the poster.

Police Python 357 takes the plot outline from The Big Clock, mashes it together with Magnum Force, and infuses the result with a powerful dose of Melvilleian honor code sensibility. The beginning simmers but the finale is an eruption of insanity. Yves Montand fully commits to the action hero role, but not without some internal torment and it's a joy to watch.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Best New-to-Me - January 2024

 Hello and welcome to the first post of 2024 actually about things I watched in 2024. I'm not big on resolutions and I haven't exactly made any regarding film, but I have been watching a fair amount of movies and trying to tackle some big gaps in my personal filmography. I did make a private "Criterion Challenge" list for myself to try and knock out some of those movies we're all supposed to have seen by now. I'm historically abysmal at this kind of thing but I'm hoping that my stubborn ass can handle one viewing a week dedicated to watching some of the best regarded films of all time. We shall see.

I've been reading Rui Nogueira's Melville on Melville which is a book-length interview with Jean-Pierre Melville written in a similar framework to Hitchcock/Truffaut. If you are a Melville fan, there's a lot to enjoy. Melville comes off as funny and highly opinionated and seems happy to discuss his films while not holding them up as overly precious. He was frequently looking towards the next film and the next project. One thing Melville mentions in his introduction is that he considered himself one of the last living witnesses of pre-war American cinema and that no one will be left who can truly assess those films in context once he is gone. Melville says " The film which was released in April 1934 - between March 1934 and May 1934 - isn't at all the same thing when you see it now some afternoon or evening at the Cinematheque." He goes on to describe his own films similarly. This is, of course, somewhat ironic to me as many people and critics failed to appreciate Melville's films when he was still alive and Nogueira's purpose in conducting the interview was to document and elevate Melville's work for an international audience. Still, it did get me thinking on seeing films in context and why I still find it personally important to get out to the theater for new releases. I'm a film dork so I'll forever believe in finding underseen, underappreciated gems of past years and will always love and appreciate the work repertory theaters and programmers are doing, but there's still something I find compelling about getting out to the new movies and especially at the theater with an audience. Part of it is continuing to believe that great movies are being released every year and there's also a sense of conversation with the films and the audience I don't get watching movies at home. It's something I really, truly missed when the cinemas shut down and I'm still thinking about it now. 

Le Havre (2011) - I've been meaning to watch Le Havre pretty much ever since reading about when it came out and just never found the moment until now. I was partly inspired by having seen Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves (more on that below) and also because I was having an epically shitty day. Le Havre turned out to be a truly potent remedy for my dark mood blending stylistic turns from classic Hollywood and Cinema du Look with Kaurismäki's class conscious humanism. I found it totally engrossing and only wished I could recognize more of the societal solidarity of Le Havre in my own life.

Growing Up on Broadway (1984) - My wife turned me onto this educational short about menstruation featuring kids who were in the Broadway production of Annie. It's a wild time capsule, the kids are terrific, it is VERY clearly sponsored by a feminine hygiene product company. I've since shared it with a few people and you too may be the kind of viewer who finds this weird and charming. Either way, it's on youtube and only 17 minutes long.

Pasha (1968) - Late last year, I finally bit the bullet picking up some French blu-rays that I believed were English language friendly and region agnostic. I wouldn't recommend it for a single purchase, but it went rather well for me to pick up a handful of films. One of the main drivers to go through this was to finally see Georges Lautner's Pasha starring Jean Gabin. A lot of Pasha is a re-tread of world weary Gabin trying to maintain his code of honor while society indulges in cowardice and decadence. He grimaces disapprovingly at everyone from hardened criminals to his wayward colleagues on the police force and scenes like the "Les Hippies" nightclub sequence are clearly objects of derision. At the same time the consistently pulsing Gainsbourg soundtrack and some of the more lavishly styled mod settings betray Lautner's obvious enthusiasm for the fashion of the times. Late-career Gabin might be a victim of his own inertia but there are still some ferocious sequences of action and violence that propel Pasha along its brisk 85 minute runtime. Interestingly, Pasha's frank police violence was a subject for possible censorship from the French government and along with Un Conde provides a template for the gritty cop movies American's largely see as kicking off some years later. I've never seen it confirmed that these European films were a direct influence on Friedkin, but I feel like it is a distinct possibility.

Katherine (1975) - Made for television joint with a terrific cast (Sissy Spacek, Art Carney, Henry Winkler, Julie Cavener, etc.) directed by Jeremy Kagan (The Big Fix). The style is unconventional mixing "interviews" with principal characters, flashbacks, image collage, and interstitial scenes of Spacek's Katherine addressing the audience directly. It's a compelling story loosely based on the actual life events of Diana Oughton who became increasingly radicalized until her death in an accidental bomb explosion. I don't think the film necessarily approves of political violence but it does paint a sympathetic portrait of leftist ideologies and the societal injustices that inspired them. I think this could make for a terrific physical media release (maybe along with some other Kagan films) but I have to imagine the music rights alone (heavy with 60s hits) would make it challenging.

Underground (1995) - I was mildly obsessed with Emir Kusturica's Black Cat, White Cat in the 90s and I can't recall if I never got around to watching Underground or I tried and failed to get into it or it just fled my memory over the years. However it went down, this was essentially a first time watch. I know probably less than I should about the politics and history of former Yugoslavia and yet that's never really prevented me from being immersed in Kusturica's visionary chaos. The music and the visual richness is something I associate with all of his work, but the satire seems distinctly more pointed here. I would absolutely love to see this theatrically one day and someone really ought to program a retrospective Kusturica series. Just putting that out there programmers, you don't even need to credit me.

Local Hero (1983) - Another long time watchlist denizen finally attended to. I wasn't ready to purchase a copy of Bill Forsyth's (arguably) best regarded film and yet it's availability online or via my local library has been a little erratic. I'm actually glad for the delay as I've dipped my toes into less heralded portions of Forsyth's filmography which both grounded my expectations and attuned me to his particular brand of quirk. Forsyth doesn't make bombastic, laugh out loud comedies and somehow I invariably burst into laughter at some dryly observed piece of absurdity in each of his films. Local Hero may in fact be the best one I've seen so far. It's silly, it's gorgeous, and it's wonderfully performed (it's hard for me not to be enthusiastic about this cast but they're particularly good). The socio-economics of billion dollar fossil fuel companies trying to buy up coastline and the local enthusiasm for those corporate dollars isn't what I would call rigorously interrogated in the film but there's such strong streams of both melancholy and wonder that I think Local Hero gets it mostly right on an emotional level. Now I probably am ready to buy a copy.

Payday (1973) - Here's another one that's been on my radar for a while I was finally, finally shoved off the ledge hearing Brian Sauer sing its praises on Jason Bailey's and Mike Hull's A Very Good Year podcast. Maybe it was the country western music context that held me at arm's length for so long and it's definitely not widely available but hol-ee shit do I wish I had gotten around to this one sooner. Absolute killer 70s bummer country outlaw banger with Rip Torn playing the scumbag as only he could play it. It's truly a gorgeous looking film for all of its ugliness (directed by Daryl Duke of The Silent Partner) and the music is incredible. This is fully screaming for a good physical media release and there are plenty of boutique labels that could do it justice. Take my damn money already.

The Counterfeiters of Paris (1961) - Another of the import discs I picked up, this is a total charmer of a caper comedy with some of my favorite faces of French cinema. It's not incredibly inventive but there are some sequences of almost lyrical beauty that are overachieving for the material. Louis Page (Any Number Can Win) handles the camera duties here and Gilles Grangier elected to shoot a combination of excellent locations in addition to some gorgeous sets - particularly the labyrinthine townhome occupied by Bernard Blier's character. Combine this with some Michel Legrand music and some engrossing counterfeiting sequences and you have the makings of a new favorite comfort watch for me. I know Kino is releasing a different Grangier/Gabin collaboration so I'm looking forward to picking that up and hope that more are on the way.

Shadows in an Empty Room (1976) - I've been dragging my feet on this one for ages but I wanted to try to fit something in for Giallo January. Shadows' giallo bona fides might be questionable but that's fine as I actually prefer when it leans into hardboiled cop action. On that count it's positively ferocious with doors getting smashed in, fist fights, foot chases, and an unhinged car chase set piece that ranks up with some of the best. Extra points for shooting down a helicopter with a revolver and threatening an infant with a switchblade.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) - It's difficult for me to write anything terribly sensible about some of these pillars of arthouse cinema that I'm only now getting around to. Beehive is positively stunning and it's inconceivable that this was Erice's debut feature. I was so totally blown away by Ana Torrent's presence and performance in Carlos Sauros' Cria! and here is an even tinier Ana every bit as magnetic as any child actor you're likely to see. I can't say that I fully appreciate the political context around Beehive but I do feel like this captures the absolute horror of childhood so beautifully that I think relating to the film was easy for me. Can I add this to my list of favorite Frankenstein films? I hope so.

Nightcap (2000) - I picked up the Twisting the Knife set from Arrow to continue on my Claude Chabrol journey I embarked on last year. I think Nightcap (I really do prefer the original title, Merci pour le Chocolat) was my favorite of the four but they are kind of a whole in my mind. Nightcap features another perfectly chilling Isabelle Huppert performance as a wealthy chocolatier who's relationship to her pianist husband and unmoored stepson is tinged with typical Chabrol-ian darkness. The four films in the set (The Swindle, The Color of Lies., Nightcap, and The Flower of Evil) are all preoccupied with wealth, ambiguous familial relationships (with suggestions of incest), old secrets, cycles of history, and death. At this point, I find them all compulsively watchable and the Arrow sets are filled with great features and discussion of Chabrol's work and themes. I'm also finding myself weirdly nostalgic for the period in which these films were made - the late 90s into the early 2000s. It looks a lot like the world does now, just without smartphones or the internet permeating every interaction people have. I'm probably just getting old but still...

The Breach (1970) - Many of the contributors to the Knife set referenced The Breach as well as the other Hélène films and I was actually able to find a copy of this one. I can understand why a lot of people site this as a favorite amongst the Chabrol thrillers. The opening is rather startling and while it simmers for a good hour it eventually erupts into a wild, chaotic finale. Unlike a lot of his more mannered works, the sex and violence and corruption happens on the screen instead of merely referenced. I have grown to appreciate Chabrol's exercises in ambiguity but The Breach delivers in a much more tangible sense. This didn't connect with me right away but has kind of grown in my estimation the more I think about it and the more I think about how it relates to his other films. The copy I saw did not look terrific and there really needs to be a restoration and re-releasing of his films from 1968-1978. I'll be the first in line to buy that box set.

True Confessions (1981) - Adapted from John Gregory Dunne's novel by Dunne and Joan Didion and directed by Ulu Grosbard (with Owen Roizman as cinemtographer, so the same team as Straight Time), True Confessions is a tremendous if somewhat understated LA noir that seems to be overlooked or forgotten. Loosely based on the Black Dahlia Murder, Confessions is filled with all the hardboiled favorites: murder, prostitution, porn, abortion, crooked cops, even worse politicians, and offers the added wrinkle of the LA Archdiocese. I think Duvall and De Niro are both excellent and while there's not much physical resemblance, they do play their brotherly connection convincingly. It's often contentious but it's believably tender at times. The rest of the cast is overflowing with faces I like to see: Charles Durning, Burgess Meredith, Kenneth McMillan and even some small parts for Dan Hadeya and James Wong. The lack of operatic violence would have put me off of this one when I was younger and story doesn't wrap up particularly neatly. Still, I see this as nearly Chandler-ian and it didn't keep me from being drawn in. Hard recommend if you go in for this kind of thing but it might not win over the casual crime film viewer.

Theatrical Screenings!

Winter Kills (1979) - Kicking off the new year with this supremely nutso sort-of spoof that never quite lives up to the promise of its totally bananas cast. The tone feels all over the place and despite the short runtime, the narrative manages to ramble a fair amount. For all of its faults, I have to say I was consistently entertained throughout - it's outrageous enough and so stacked with people I love to see that it would be hard not to engage with it. Looking at the production history of Winter Kills, it's clear that this thing was going off the rails from jump and it's impressive they even managed to get a complete film finished. Who Killed Winter Kills is totally worthwhile to look up if you've seen the film. We got to watch the fancy new Tarantino-driven 35mm print thanks to the fine folks of the Cult Film Collective.

Fallen Leaves (2023) - Not outrageously inventive nor does it depart significantly from Kaurismäki's other work but it's so excellently done that I didn't mind a bit. The setting for Leaves is ostensibly Helsinki around 2021 or so but it's also filled with anachronistic touches that place it almost within an alternate reality or something. I could see myself revisiting this to tease out more of those threads. It's also incredibly sweet, melancholy, filled with movie posters I'd love to own, and Maustetytöt (featured prominently in a terrific narrative breaking section) has gone into steady rotation at Kino Ventura central.

The Zone of Interest (2023) - I can see how some might be put off by Glazer's remove but I still appreciate his approach to attempting to document something about an atrocity that's nearly incomprehensible in its immensity. What can you say or show in a film that even approaches the enormity of evil of the Holocaust? I'm not even sure how to write about this film other than to say Glazer's craft is exceptional and I wish he would make more movies.

The next few movies are all things I've seen so far as part of the Film Independent Spirit Awards screenings at the Walker Art Center. They do these screenings every year and they are free to Walker members, Film North members, and Film Independent members. The screenings only occur in Minneapolis and Los Angeles so if you live in the Twin Cities, I can't encourage you enough to take advantage of them. If you became a Walker member and only used it to go to the screenings, I think that would still be a great deal.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023) - This is the debut feature of Raven Jackson, known for her photography and poetry, and it feels very much like a film made by a poet. Evocation of fragmented sense memory, the fluidity of time, the specificity and incompleteness of our recollection all feature prominently. It is very lyrical in its execution and beautiful as well. I think how audiences connect with it is going to be highly subjective - there isn't much traditional narrative or character study to hang on to. Either you will be utterly lost, appreciate it from a distance, or find yourself transcended. The sound design is tremendous, definitely a theater watch if at all possible.

All of Us Strangers (2023) - Andrew Haigh is a director I should really follow up on as while I've not seen all of his films, I tend to really appreciate the ones I do manage to see. There was a lot of hype around Strangers and I think it's deserved. It's an incredibly intimate and evocative portrait of isolation and loss with some outstanding performances from its scant cast of essentially four actors. Not many dry eyes left in the theater during this one and being an old sad-sack, I loved the soundtrack as well. Last year around this time I was watching Paul Mescal in Aftersun as part of the Spirit Awards so that's two positively heartbreaking turns from him.

A Thousand and One (2023) - My favorite category for the Spirit Awards is "best first feature" (as well as their Cassavetes award) and I'm continually astonished at how accomplished some of these debut features are. I went into A Thousand and One mostly blind and I found myself drawn in immediately between its recreation of 90s NYC and the captivating performance from Teyana Taylor. This is both a heartfelt and sometimes brutal family drama but it's also a story of gentrification and the dissolution of place and a culture. The balance between these two was struck rather deftly and while it doesn't let anyone off the hook, it doesn't feel strident in how it approaches the subject. Taylor is already a star but this definitely put her more squarely on my radar. I was really impressed with Josiah Cross as well. This should be a bigger hit and more people should see it, but I do see it is available on prime video so hopefully it gets some more eyeballs. I will 100% be looking for the next feature from A.V. Rockwell and you should too.

Upon Entry (2022) - Another debut feature, this time from Spain, and a fantastic illustration on how to cleverly assemble a taught narrative on a budget. It's the story of a young couple attempting to move to the US when they get held up by immigration. Their initial confusion gives way to desperation, rage, and despair as the interrogation they're subjected to becomes increasingly Kafkaesque. This was a really smart film and I doubt I would have seen it otherwise so I'm glad for that.

Monday, January 1, 2024

2023 - Year in Review

 Last Year when I sat down to write my annual review of my own movie watching and writing, I was working my way out of a bit of a filmic funk. My overall viewing numbers were down, I hadn't been writing consistently, and I was feeling disengaged from what I love best about movies. Thankfully, going through the exercise of writing about what did bring me cinematic joy helped turn things around for me. This year has been my most consistent year of writing in this space and I also wrote for other online and offline publications who were generous enough to have me. I'm happy to say that I have a ton of ideas for pieces and projects for the coming year and while time is ever a precious resource, I'm grateful to be in a place of creative enthusiasm. As always, thanks so much to everyone who reads, likes, responds, or otherwise offers any bit of encouragement to keep me plugging along. It truly means the world to me and I hope you do find a movie recommendation or at least a kindred spirit amongst my ramblings.

Movies are Back, Baby! I keep hearing this from film journalists and while it has a lot to do with Barbenheimer, it's true in a smaller way for me too. As I write this, I'm sitting at 400 Letterboxd diary entries for 2023 and I know my theatrical attendance has been solid throughout the year. 400 is not an insane number of movies compared to many die-hards and more dedicated reviewers than myself, but until I can abandon my 9-to-5 this is a sweet spot for me. Most of the films I saw were from the US and could be considered dramas which is fairly typical for me. France was the clear runner up for country of origin and the crime/thriller genres were well represented (though they do cross over with the dramas).

Directors - My most-watched director for 2023 was Claude Chabrol and it wasn't close. I watched 15 Chabrol films over the year and almost all of them were new-to-me. Chabrol is a fascinating character in his own right and was such a prolific filmmaker that I will no doubt be watching many of his films for years to come. Despite my interest in French film, I (sheepishly) admit that I haven't been the greatest student of the New Wave. I certainly watched a handful of the best known Truffaut and Godard films as a young movie nerd but my real entry into Cinéma français has always been Melville who is more New Wave adjacent. Chabrol is interesting because he is undoubtedly part of the Cahiers du cinéma gang and the first of them to get a movie made, and yet his career diverged from the movement and was met with rather severe criticism from them (not unlike Melville). I've actually never fully understood why the Cahiers critics could have such undying admiration for filmmakers like Hawks and Hitchcock but met comparable French stylists with such total derision. Regardless, Chabrol's filmography is a rich one and I was able to sample from his earliest films that were largely in line with his New Wave contemporaries, some of his mid-period Hélène cycle thrillers, and many of his later period "commercial" films. Though I've been trying all year, it's challenging to capture what I find so compelling about Chabrol's films in writing. Often the plot beats are simplistic or appear to be loaded with genre tropes and yet he is able to present them or subvert them in fascinating ways. His style is somewhat detached (which works beautifully in his repeated skewering of the bourgeoisie) but he works with these marvelous actors - Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Yanne, etc. - and gets tremendous, emotionally powerful performances from them. His films can be cruel, they are often slyly funny, and though he is working in the form of popular entertainment - he often seems indifferent to delivering the expected to his audience. One thing I have noted with some frustration is the availability of his work. Criterion has released both his earliest films and some later ones where he received a lot of critical admiration (La Cérémonie). Arrow has produced two beautiful box sets of Chabrol films licensed by mk2 mostly from the 80s and 90s. I am loving the sets and the films but they are not his most celebrated or necessarily where I'd recommend anyone start with Chabrol. Somehow Chabrol's films from 1968-1978 are missing in action aside from a few dvd releases here and there. This includes the Hélène films as well as his much admired first collaboration with Isabelle Huppert, Violette Nozière. These are the films that not only would I like to see given restorations, there the ones I could probably most easily recommend to fans of classic genre, thriller, and even horror films. There are a lot of eurocult crossover with the performers and they're just great movies. Here's hoping we see some in the near future.

As a quick additional note, my second most watched director of the year was Hal Hartley. Hartley was one of the undisputed kings of the indie film scene when I was first being exposed to them in the late 90s and I worked in theaters when some of his higher profile films released. I've felt like his name had been somewhat forgotten and his films weren't terribly easy to find so I couldn't have been more thrilled to see Criterion Channel offer a complete retrospective of his work. I subscribed for a month and devoured them - it was a terrific revisiting of a time and place I still think of fondly.

Actors - In part inspired by the Fun City Editions release of Party Girl, I was watched and re-watched a considerable chunk of Parker Posey's career. This overlapped rather well with my Hal Hartley binge and she became my most watched actor for 2023. Much like Hartley, Posey was already indie-film royalty when I first got a job at an arthouse theater and I quickly became a massive fan. Though I did a lot of re-watching of her films, there were some new-to-me ones that left a lasting impression. Gregg Mottola's Daytrippers is my platonic ideal of a 90s indie classic - initially budgeted for 50k, shot in 16 days, leverages the actual apartments of the cast and crew as locations, and is essentially bursting with talent because NYC was overflowing with creative, enthusiastic people who were willing to make a thing just to make a thing. It's an ensemble piece but Posey certainly shines as the snarky foil to Liev Schreiber's reserved (though slightly sinister) intellectual. Jill Sprecher's Clockwatchers is another low-key 90s gem that I was totally taken with. Again an ensemble (featuring some great stuff from Toni Collette) but one where Posey shines as the office temp who knows the game well enough to subvert it. No machine can replace me until it learns how to drink!!!!

A very close second place to Parker Posey was Isabelle Huppert. I don't know that there's much I can say to add to the world renown and admiration Huppert has already earned time and time again. She worked closely and magnificently with Chabrol and I would easily recommend any of their collaborations. Interestingly, Huppert shared the screen only twice with Gérard Depardieu and both films are incredible - Loulou and Valley of Love. There's no way I can defend Depardieu the person, but he and Huppert are iconic on screen together (even and maybe especially when they are older). Lastly, I have to mention La Garce which Fun City Editions released earlier this year and I wrote about in a standalone article. The article was one of my most visited pieces since I started the blog so I hope people are finding the film, seeing the film, and recognizing its quality even if it is challenging. I've seen it playing here and there around the country and would love to see it for myself on the big screen.

Theatrical Experiences! 

I've always been thankful for the variety and depth of cinematic options available to us here in the Twin Cities but I think it was doing some traveling last year that truly brought that quality home. This isn't New York or Los Angeles or Paris, but I'd wager to say that the Twin Cities metro (especially Minneapolis) is currently home to one of the best local cinema scenes in the country - especially for a city of its size. Many comparable metros have been left with maybe one or two arthouse or even independent theaters while we're spoiled for choice on a weekly basis. I had a genuinely tough time trimming my list down to the experiences that left the greatest impact on me and most of these entries are local. This is an amazing problem to have and one I hope to keep on having. If you're living near here you should really be taking advantage of these resources and if you're just going to one of these venues, I'd highly encourage you to sample some others. I still have some spots and series that I haven't fit in yet but I hope to address that in 2024.

My top ten theatrical experiences in roughly chronological order:

The 7 Grandmasters (1977) - Shown in 35mm at the venerable Trylon Cinema thanks to Dan Halsted of The Hollywood in Portland. I would love to be able to attend Dan's regular series that he programs from his unparalleled collection of original Kung-Fu film prints, but I'm beyond thrilled that he makes the trip out to Minneapolis every so often to present something amazing. I was already familiar with the unrelenting intensity of 7 Grandmasters but it's something else entirely to see a Kung-Fu film on film and with an audience. I wrote something about this one for Trylon's Perisphere blog which was cool to be able to do. 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)- This is in part a stand-in for the Independent Film Spirit Award screenings that happen at the Walker every year. As far as I know, the Spirit nominee screenings only take place in Los Angeles and Minneapolis and for me it's often the chance I have to catch festival movies that had yet to or will not hit wider theatrical release. This year there was something especially moving seeing a documentary about an artist and an activist in an art museum surrounded by a crowd of art and film lovers. One of the reasons I struggle to do "best of" whatever year lists is that the line between the years gets blurry to me. I think Bloodshed has generally been considered a 2022 film, I saw it in 2023, and it would make my best-of list for either year.

Nights of Cabiria (1957) - Cabiria is one of the rare Fellini films that I first saw in the theater. It had been re-released following a restoration in the 90s and I saw it at the sadly now-defunct Uptown Theatre knowing almost nothing about it. I was positively entranced then and it remains one of my most cherished movie going experiences. This year I was able to bring my wife to a nearly sold out matinee screening of Cabiria as part of the Italian Film Festival at The Main Cinema. While I can't totally recreate that first time viewing experience for myself, it was an absolute joy to be sitting in the dark with people who either loved the movie as much as I do or were discovering for the first time themselves. The fact that so many people would pack a theater at 11am to watch a 66 year old Italian film is one of those life affirming moments we could all use more of.

MSP International Film Festival - I have attended MSPIFF screenings many times before in my life but 2023 was the first year where I was really able to see not only multiple films every week but often multiple films a day. This is very much thanks to MSPIFF granting me press access to the festival so I made every effort to see as much as possible. From an organizing perspective, it was run beautifully. I thought the staff and the volunteers did a great job and hosting most of the films at the Main meant I could use public transportation to attend and things like a meal or a drink were all a short walk away. I also loved the programming: Tori and Lokita, Showing Up, Kokomo City, The Beasts, The Origin of Evil, Birth/Rebirth, L'Immensita, Love Life, and more are all movies that have really stuck with me over the year. I'd love to take some time off of work for the festival in 2024 and hopefully attend some more talks and events.

Lumières Françaises 2023 - Another nod towards the Main and their international programming - this time the annual French film festival. I did manage to make it out to several screenings during this week long tribute to Cinéma français but there were definitely two standouts and they were both films I'd seen before. The Innocent is a 2022 film that I managed to catch during my Criterion subscription and one I've been able to recommend to a broad swath of people because I think it's an incredible slice of entertainment. It's part heist film and part romantic comedy with a soundtrack that blends both impossibly cool movie soundtracks and irresistible 80s/90s europop jams. Seeing it in a theater was excellent and hearing Stelvio Cipriani themes in full surround sound is a dream. The real highlight of the festival for me was watching Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles theatrically for the first time. I've seen Chantal Akerman's masterpiece before but I don't know that I'll ever want to see it again outside of a darkened cinema. Being compelled to sit with it for the full duration in the dark, with no pause buttons or other distractions available is to truly confront it in its fascinating, frustrating, intimate, engrossing whole. 

New Jack City (1991) - Seeing a restored version of New Jack City in New York with a fully hyped up audience would have been enough to make it on this list, but this screening (during the Tribeca Film Festival) also featured a Q&A with Mario Van Peebles, Vanessa Williams, Fab 5 Freddy, and Michael Michele. Did I mention RZA was also just there, hanging out and talking music with Freddy? Unreal stuff. 

Cria! (1976) - This is the kind of film I absolutely adore the Trylon for rolling out. It wasn't really part of a series, it's not a new restoration, they just decided to screen a 35mm print of Carlos Saura's dark and touching portrait of childhood grief and estrangement. I didn't find this as unrelentingly depressing as many people claim it to be. Rather, I found Cria to have a richer texture that captured a lot of the joy and levity in childhood that contrasts some truly harrowing experiences. I managed to find a book on Saura at Brattle Book Shop in Boston so I have some more reading to do and more of his films to catch up on. One thing I'm curious about is his facility for integrating pop music into his films. Deprisa, Deprisa influenced a lot of my listening in 2022 and Porque te vas? has been in heavy rotation this year. 

The Super Spook Show Spectacular - I would have liked to include more of Cinema of the Macabre's programming on this list because Tim shows some killer movies. However, his Spook Show Spectacular this October was easily one of my favorite cinematic experiences of any year. Five mystery movies, grab bags, skits, prizes, trailers, and even Edgar Allen Poe were on offer that afternoon and I loved every bit of it. I have nothing but endless admiration for those who subject themselves to 24 hour horror movie marathons but this was much more my speed. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Luigi Cozzi's Black Cat was one of the films screened and it has been my ambition to see that with an audience since first hearing those sweet Bango Tango riffs that open the film. I am very hopeful that this will be a continuing tradition and I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Hi, Mom! (1970) - Another unexpectedly awesome 35mm showcase from the Trylon and local heroes The Cult Film Collective. Brian De Palma's early feature is chaotic and confounding - blending verité location footage, multiple film formats, unexpected shifts in tone, and improvised dialogue to deliver a biting satire that while funny, doesn't even try to conceal the seething rage that's driving it. It's not a perfect picture by any stretch of the imagination and I think criticisms about how its politics are unexamined are totally fair. However, seeing it with an audience truly made the picture for me and that's why it's on the list. Being with people laughing and gasping and feeling terribly uncomfortable together delivered such a visceral experience for me and maybe (hopefully) captures some of the impact it had on audiences back in 1970.

Found Footage Festival Vol. 10 - One of those genuinely fortuitous moments. I was texted out of the blue to see if we wanted to go to see the Found Footage Festival live at the Heights so we decided to forgo grocery shopping and get down to the theater. I've been appreciating the shot on video delights of the FFF from afar for years but this was my first ever viewing of the live show. I don't recall laughing so hard for anything in recent memory. The Dorothy Recording, sourced from somewhere near here in Minnesota, was an obvious highlight and I was beyond stunned when they played clips of a film noir serial shot in my home town and aired on public access television in the early 90s. It was also extremely cool that the show opened with Strange Tapes. Scott showed some amazing stuff and I believe is the person responsible for alerting me to the presence of Hamburger Dad for which I will be eternally grateful. 

I hope that you had a satisfyingly cinematic 2023 and I wish you a 2024 filled with great films!

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